I went into this race with a fair bit of trepidation. Over the past few months I had a lot going on that shifted my focus from training to other more important things. We moved at the beginning of March which capped a long process of cleaning, packing, etc. and started a new process of cleaning, unpacking, etc! I also ran a personal best in the Grimsby Half at the end of February in snowy conditions at the expense of a tendon injury on my right ankle. All of this resulted much less training than I had hoped to do before I raced ATB. Given that running is just something I do for recreation and fitness, it falls far below my other priorities like family, and personal health.
When I woke up Sunday morning I was feeling good – my recent nagging injuries felt OK, it was sunny, and I was looking forward to getting this race started. We made the short drive from Niagara Falls to Hamilton and were able to quickly find indoor parking for $5 right next to Copps Coliseum. We went inside and found some seats in the arena – my wife was armed with some marking to do while she waited for me to finish and was very happy to be indoors on this chilly day! At about 9:15AM I headed to the start line (along with a huge herd of fellow runners shuffling over to the same place). I realized that I was going to have a tough time getting anywhere near the front, so I followed a small group cutting some buildings out to the starting area. This got me closer to the front, but I was amazed by the size of the sea of runners around me. In a very short time the gun went off, and we began slowly walking towards the start of the race. It was about 25 seconds before I got to the start line, but not long after the crowd had cleared enough to start running.
The first section of the course was a nice warmup. This part of the route travels through older residential areas of Hamilton and is nice and flat. In the sun that morning it was great. This section continues down towards the lake where it makes a left hand turn into Burlington. I had a goal of 2:10 which would be around 4:10 min/km pace and looking back, I was pushing a little too hard in this section. I covered the first 10K in 40:38 (even with the slow shuffle past the start line).
The stretch across the north end of the course is quite scenic as you run along Lake Ontario in Burlington. I was still feeling good at this point, and really enjoying the run. I remembered to take in one of my gels at about 45 minutes into the race. The most challenging part of this section was crossing the lift bridge on Eastport Drive – the grating is not nice stuff to run on!
The last long portion of the course runs along the west side of Hamilton Harbour and I felt reasonably good coming into it. My pace was still better than where I had hoped it would be – for the 2nd 10K I ran 42:17, which was slower than the first, but still well within my goal. However, I was starting to feel some tendon pain in around my right ankle, and some strain in my left knee – both areas where I had problems leading up to this race. This section took us through some nice residential areas and there were lots of people out cheering us on with encouragement that was becoming more and more welcome! As I got past the 20K marker, the wheels started to fall off. This part of the course is almost all rolling hills – challenging to get up and then hard on the legs going down. I started thinking back to the last few months, and wished I had maintained my regular hill training that I had been doing earlier in the winter! I actually slowed to a walk a number of times between 21K and 28K. I was definitely feeling the effects of my recent lack of mileage for a long run like this. I tried to limit my walking sections to a few seconds at the aid stations to make sure I got lots of water down my throat rather then on my feet! The final downhill/uphill combo on the course definitely lived up to its reputation – it was a killer at this point in the race. The reward for finishing it is that you end up in sight of the finish, and the course is mainly downhill until you get there.
As bad as I was feeling, the km’s kept ticking away and I was soon pushing through the last 2K to Copps Coliseum. I had no one else around me and tried to keep my pace up coming down York Rd. and then into the arena. It was a cool feeling hearing the announcers inside the arena as I was coming up to the building,and then running down the ramp and into the the finish area by myself in such a huge and loud place. It was a tough race, and I was relieved to be done. My final 10K time was 48:53 – much slower than the first two splits. Final gun time was 2:10:14 (chip was 2:09:48). I was happy to have met my goal, but knew that I could have been faster with better preparation.
This was by far the hardest race I have done. My other two distance races have been shorter (half-marathons), and on much flatter courses. You really have to be prepared for the hills in the last 10K of this course, physically and mentally!